By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — It has been 26 years since Dunn County Register of Deeds Jim Mrdutt took office.
Mrdutt, who is from Boyceville, is planning to retire at the end of his term in January.
“My address is Boyceville but I live up by Highway 25 and 64. I am the third generation on that farm. I went to school in Prairie Farm. My kids went to school in Boyceville, so then I got to know a lot more people,” Mrdutt said.
Mrdutt and his late wife, Barbara, have three sons — and three and a half grandchildren.
“My first granddaughter should be here in late September. My grandsons are three and a half, a year and a half and a month old,” Mrdutt said.
Since he was first elected nearly three decades ago, Mrdutt has never been challenged in an election, and there is no reason to believe he would not be elected again this time around.
Still, he says it is time for him to retire.
“I’ve had some major life changes. My wife passed away a year and a half ago, and it’s time to move on and do something else. My deputy, Heather, is just excellent. It’s time to pass the torch because she will do an excellent job. I am involved with my son in his business, too,” Mrdutt said.
Ben Mrdutt owns and operates an oil seed extrusion business.
“My wife and I had so many plans. And now I’ve got to regroup. My family and my friends have been very supportive. We had a lot of hopes and dreams. The rug was kind of pulled out from under me,” Mrdutt said.
Heather Kuhn, Dunn County’s deputy Register of Deeds, will be running for the Register of Deeds position in the November election.
Although Mrdutt could work for another year or two, he does not want to continue for the full four years of another elected term. If he retired mid-term, the governor would appoint a Register of Deeds for Dunn County, and Mrdutt said he would rather that the voters in Dunn County elect their next Register of Deeds.
“Heather is willing, able and eager to take over as Register of Deeds. You take a lot of pride in everything. You don’t want to turn it over to someone just off the street. I thought about retiring mid-term but then decided to wait until after the election,” he said.
“When I started, I was the youngest elected official. Then the next thing I knew, I was the senior elected official. That didn’t take as long as I thought it would,” Mrdutt said.
“The very first time (I ran for Register of Deeds) there were seven of us. After that, I never had opposition in 26 years. I’m very thankful for that,” he said.
Mrdutt started his career as a land surveyor.
“My background was in land surveying, and when the previous Register announced his retirement, Ray Score was the county board chair and was my neighbor. He mentioned it and encouraged me to do it. I had no idea how to run for office. And that’s how it all started,” Mrdutt explained.
“You definitely want some type of real estate or surveying background to be in this office. I didn’t know anything about the vital records, birth, death and marriage, but I picked all of that up along the way,” he said.
In addition to property deeds on file, the Register of Deeds office also is responsible for keeping vital records.
“We have the military discharge papers for veterans here also. We’re like the librarian for the entire county, for their births, deaths, marriages, and their real estate transactions and mortgages. It all comes through here sooner or later,” Mrdutt said.
As one might imagine, much has changed in the Register of Deeds office over the past 26 years.
“When I first took office, we had one electric typewriter and the rest were manuals. And now we can’t even find an electric typewriter,” Mrdutt said.
Manual or electric typewriters are necessary for typing dates on certain documents, like birth, death and marriage certificates.
“You’d rather type it than hand-write in the date all the time. But it is very difficult to line it up on the computer so that it prints out all right. There are forms that require typewriters, but no one makes typewriters anymore. The automation and all of the computers. If we didn’t have the computers, we would probably have to have double the staff,” Mrdutt said.
The way that information is stored also has changed over the years.
“We no longer store hard copies of documents. Everything is electronic storage. You don’t need as much storage space. You can do two or three jobs at once on the computer when before you had to do it all by hand two or three times,” he said.
“Backing up and making sure there are backups have given me a few sleepless nights. The whole system is being stored in a very secure company in Illinois. That’s hard to comprehend at first. We have multiple backups too, so that if one goes down, there are still other copies,” he said.
Records at the Dunn County Register of Deeds office date back as far as 1860.
“We are going back now and imaging our old, old records. If something happened to this building, everything from 1860 to about 1950 still could be lost. We are in the process of electronically capturing all of that,” Mrdutt said.
Also as one might expect when dealing with a variety of records, the Register of Deeds office has had some surprises as well.
“I should have kept a diary over the years. There have been some hysterical moments,” Mrdutt noted.
“One time a guy came in and wanted his birth certificate and said he was born in March. We looked and looked, and we couldn’t find it. We ended up finding it three months earlier. He said, ‘well, that can’t be.’ He was getting ready for Social Security, and that’s why he needed his birth record,” Mrdutt recalled.
“All of sudden the guy’s wife started laughing. She had figured it out. All those years, his mother had said that he was born three months later. They had apparently moved out of the area for a while. The daughter-in-law was in tears. She said, ‘Just wait until I see my mother-in-law!’ He said, ‘If I’d known that, I could have been retired three months earlier!’” Mrdutt said.
The Register of Deeds office also is seeing a certain number of children born in recent years for whom no birth certificate was filed.
“We are also getting people coming in now who had home deliveries. There was no one in attendance, and no one established a birth record for these kids. They were homeschooled, and when the kids want a driver’s license or a passport, then a can of worms is really opened up,” Mrdutt said.
Another more disturbing trend is developing as well.
“There is getting to be a faction of people who are frustrated with government, and they think they don’t have to follow the laws. They try to record stuff that is not entitled to be recorded, and that’s challenging,” Mrdutt said.
“You want to treat everyone equally, but there are certain things we cannot do. People don’t understand that. It’s getting to be a bigger challenge. They want to be sovereign citizens. They are starting their own court system. They don’t believe in paying taxes. They want to rescind their birth certificates. And it is growing. They want no record of their birth so the government does not know they exist,” he said.
“We’ve always had a model of treating all the customers with respect. I tell my staff to treat people they way they would want to be treated. Some people come in, and they don’t know how to express what it is they want. So over the years, you become something like a detective sometimes. You ask questions to find out exactly what it is that they are looking for, and eventually, you figure it out,” Mrdutt said.
After Mrdutt officially retires, he plans to spend more time with his grandchildren, more time fishing and more time in Arizona.
“I have frozen my hands too many times farming. I think I’ll make a good snow bird. When the leaves start falling, I’m leaving for the desert. And when the leaves come back, I will return,” Mrdutt said.
“I also plan on getting back into fishing more. And I plan to get into woodworking. I’d like to make some things. Right now I’m good at making sawdust. I’ve got to improve on that,” he said, noting that he enjoys fishing for bass, crappies and other panfish.
“And I plan on taking the grandkids fishing. I will be relocating up by Cumberland on a little place on a lake. And already the grandkids just love it there,” Mrdutt said.
“I’ve always been interested in woodworking, too, but not a lot of time to learn it. In Arizona where I’ll be spending my winters they have huge woodworking shops in the recreation centers. Very well equipped. A good friend of mine is one of the instructors there,” he said.
“It’s been a good 26 years here. I am going to miss a lot of people. I am going to keep in touch with them. They end up like family. You end up spending more time with them than you do your family,” Mrdutt said.
“I have been so fortunate to have excellent staff through the years. It’s really been a fun office to work in and how everyone gets along,” he said.
“When I get weather reports saying it’s 20 below, I will think of everyone here. I’ve seen 40 below twice in my life, and I never want to see that again,” Mrdutt said..